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2018 Winter Olympics: Win is golden for US women's hockey team

Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters Team USA goalie Maddie Rooney of Minnesota Duluth, seen here facing a shot during regulation, was stellar in a shootout Thursday against Canada to lead the Americans to their first Olympic women's hockey gold medal in 20 years in Gangneung, South Korea. 1 / 2
Andrew Nelles / USA Today Sports Former Minnesota Duluth teammates Maddie Rooney (35) and defenseman Sidney Morin (23) celebrate Thursday after the U.S. defeated Canada in the Olympic women's hockey gold-medal game at Gangneung South Korea.2 / 2

2018 WINTER OLYMPICS / WOMEN'S HOCKEY / USA 3, CANADA 2

GANGNEUNG, South Korea — They took turns skating with the American flag held above their head or draped around their shoulders. Springsteen blared over the sound system as chants of "USA! USA!" filled the arena.

They waited 20 years for this celebration. Twenty years of silver medals, of heartbreaking losses, of having to stand there in tears and watch their archrival celebrate just like this.

Now it was their turn to feel what it's like at the summit of their sport.

They didn't hold back. They hugged and shed happy tears, and screamed until their throats burned.

"Pure screams and pure happiness," one player would say later.

The U.S. women's hockey team let loose 20 years of emotion that spewed like a volcanic eruption.

The Americans are bringing home the gold medal from the Olympics this time. Not Canada.

"You're in shock," said defenseman Sidney Morin, who along with goaltender Maddie Rooney represented Minnesota Duluth on the team.

And awe, too, because a rivalry that already ranked among the best in sports managed to deliver another epic clash that won't be topped by anything in these Olympics in entertainment and drama.

Three periods and one overtime couldn't settle the matter. A shootout was required and Team USA converted one more than Canada for a 3-2 victory that gave the Americans their first gold medal since 1998, the year women's hockey debuted in the Olympics.

Canada had won four consecutive gold medals and had not lost an Olympic game — 24 in a row — since that 1998 gold-medal game, when former UMD women's hockey coach Shannon Miller coached the Canadians.

The Americans weren't just trying to dethrone a champion. They also needed to conquer their own gold-medal demons and finally rid themselves of the nightmare of their late-game meltdown in Sochi four years ago.

They had to prove to themselves, to everyone, that they could beat the team that never loses in the Olympics.

"We knew that we could beat them," said forward Dani Cameranesi, whose brother, Tony, played four seasons at UMD.

If they had to wait 20 years, might as well make it an all-time classic. This one was worthy of gold, reminding us that nothing in sports surpasses in emotion and tension when two heavyweights perform at their absolute best with a championship on the line.

Canada didn't lose. Team USA just won.

By a whisker.

"This is a classic example of how hard it should be," U.S. coach Robb Stauber, a 1986 Duluth Denfeld graduate, said.

They delivered a masterpiece, 80 minutes of anxiety-filled hockey that was emotionally exhausting to witness. These rivals always bring out the best in each other, but their competitive fight on display was extraordinary even by their standards. Every shift or rush up the ice in overtime made your heart rate spike.

The Americans won because Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson executed one of the prettiest shootout moves you'll ever see. Two fakes sent Canada's goalie Shannon Szabados tumbling backward, creating an open net.

"She's got filthy hands," Megan Keller said in paying her teammate a fine hockey compliment.

The Americans needed one more stop after that, putting their faith in Rooney, who was 7 months old when Team USA won its only gold medal. Rooney, who took a year sabbatical away from UMD and will have two years' eligibility remaining, stuffed Meghan Agosta and the party was on.

"I never felt for one minute that it wasn't going to work out," said Stauber, who celebrated an NCAA championship when serving as UMD's goalie coach.

His players believed that, too. Not just hoped it would happen, but truly believed that they could be better than Canada on this stage. Then they went out and proved it.

"This is as good as it gets for us," Morin said.

They know too well how the other side feels. Many of them experienced the heartbreak in Sochi and the four long years that followed it.

That memory probably won't ever leave them, but it looked a million miles behind them as they kept touching and admiring the gold medals that dangled from their necks.

"It's indescribable how happy it is to be an Olympic champion," Monique Lamoureux-Morando said. "It's a title no one can take away from us."

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